Key lessons from the High-Level Compact2025 Forum: Moving from Relief to Resilience

On October 31, 2017, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) hosted the Compact2025 Malawi Forum in Lilongwe, calling upon stakeholders from across Ministries, development and research organizations, and civil society to discuss how Malawi can accelerate progress in moving from food relief to building food system resilience. The Compact2025 initiative aims to end hunger and undernutrition by 2025, with an initial focus on four countries – Malawi, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Bangladesh. The Right Honorable Dr. Saulos Chilima, Vice President of the Republic of Malawi, has served as a member of the Compact2025 Leadership Council since the initiative’s inception in November 2015, and gave the keynote address at this year’s Forum.

Right Honorable Dr. Saulos Chilima, Vice President of the Republic of Malawi, giving his keynote address

The focus of the Forum was how to best support resilience-building strategies with rigorous evidence, and translate both recommendations from last year’s Forum and new learning into action for achieving sustainable food security in Malawi. The Vice President’s keynote, along with presentations by Dr. Shenggen Fan (Director-General of IFPRI), Dr. Suresh Babu (Head of Capacity Strengthening at IFPRI), and a panel discussion raised important questions and stimulated a rich conversation about how Malawi can move from relief to resilience.

The Vice President’s keynote address emphasized both the importance of the agricultural sector in Malawi and its vulnerability to shocks in the face of climate change. Agriculture has frequently received the largest budget allocation of all sectors in Malawi, and is second only to education in the 2017-18 National budget. However, this level of expenditure has not been able to mitigate the impacts of bad weather years on the economy and agricultural sector growth, which fell from 6.2% in 2014 to -1.0% in 2015 and -0.2% in 2016. The Vice President also reminded the audience of the high cost of undernutrition, which costs the Malawian economy 10.3% of GDP each year. His speech called on stakeholders to discuss issues ranging from low labor productivity, to infrastructure development and the optimal mix of landholdings among small, medium and large-scale farmers in order to reduce vulnerability.

The Forum also considered the four pillars of the Government’s forthcoming National Resilience Strategy (NRS), which include resilient agricultural growth; risk reduction, flood control and early warning and response systems; human capacity, livelihoods and social protection; and catchment protection and management. Throughout the day, speakers and panelists emphasized the necessity of a multisectoral approach in implementing the NRS.

For example, to build resilient agricultural systems, Dr. Clement Chilima of the Department of Forestry spoke about the need to restore degraded forest landscapes to build healthy soils and maintain water availability. Meanwhile, Mr. Readwell Musopole of the Department of Agricultural Planning Services pondered what would have to be foregone for the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development to prioritize investments in irrigation. The Vice President also highlighted irrigation as a potential lever for economic growth, citing IFPRI research, and later lamented that the current agricultural architecture and the Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP) has not been useful to build resilience, citing its social protection, rather than growth, orientation.

Panelists at the Compact2025 Forum

Prioritizing investments emerged as another common theme of the Forum. The Minister of Finance, Honorable Goodall Gondwe, the Minster of Gender, Honorable Jean Kalilani, M.P., and Dr. Shenggen Fan all spoke of the importance of efficiency in the use of scarce funding and resources. To achieve this, Malawi needs to scale up pilot programs that have proven worthwhile, based on the knowledge and experiences of partner organizations and on high-quality data for evidence-based decision-making. For example, the Vice President pointed to research demonstrating that investments to reduce stunting have high returns for economic growth. Reductions in stunting, vitamin A deficiency and cases of anemia in recent years were highlighted by the Minister of Health, Honorable Atupele Muluzi, M.P., in his address.

On that note, the Forum’s discussions underscored that there is still much work to be done to improve Malawi’s data collection and information systems. Dr. Suresh Babu shared this as an important lesson from last year’s Food Insecurity Response Plan, noting that poor market information systems constrained those working on the humanitarian relief effort’s ability to make decisions to help the poorest and most vulnerable. Other attendees voiced the need for better data and analysis on gender and women’s empowerment, while representatives of the private sector argued that transparency and information sharing is necessary for the sector to be a key partner in resilience-building activities.

In his closing remarks, Dr. Fan emphasized that Malawi stands to benefit greatly from mutual learning – in particular from South-South learning – an important component of the Compact2025 initiative. He suggested that Malawi learn lessons from other African countries’ successes, such as Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program. He also pointed to the way Thailand has prioritized and respected the role of research, despite extensive changes in governance over the years. Knowledge sharing and finding innovative approaches to ending hunger and malnutrition are the underpinnings of the Compact2025 Initiative, and IFPRI will continue to engage with Malawi in these efforts in the follow up to this year’s Forum.

Dr. Shenggen Fan, Director-General, IFPRI

For more information on the event, see the synopsis on the Compact2025 website and the following meeting documents: